Plans, funding discussed for justice center

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

As of now, plans are being pursued to expand the Dubois County Security Center and community corrections facilities, and to move all justice-related departments out of the Dubois County Courthouse and into a new facility near those buildings.

How much funding is provided for the changes was discussed at length at the Dubois County Council’s meeting on Monday.

Commissioners President Chad Blessinger explained where the commissioners are in the process of developing plans for the changes.

“The plan is to start everything at the bare minimum of what we need, and then do anything above and over that as alternative bids, so that we can decide when those things come in, what is really most important to us,” he told the council. “From a strict numbers point, I would say we’ll start [the security center] at 150 [beds], and then we’ll do alternative things over and above that.”

The facility would be made in a way to allow it to be expanded if and when needed.

“So even if we went small with number of beds, we would have designed and built it in such a way that you can open a garage door, wheel more of the premade cells in and do that in the future if you needed to,” Blessinger said. “We don’t want to grow; hopefully it stays empty and nobody commits crimes. But realistically, this gives us room to grow.”

The commissioners are also looking to expand the community corrections facility, move all justice-related departments into a new justice center to be built near the security and community corrections center, and renovate the county courthouse to give the remaining departments more room and to move other offices from the courthouse annex into the courthouse. Blessinger said the annex would likely be empty, though he is concerned about the relocation of the veterans service office. Where it is located now is ideal, because it is on the ground floor and has available handicap parking right in front of the door, he said.

Purchasing land near community corrections from SERVUS! for $185,000 is almost complete. But the county will need to get a zoning variance from the City of Jasper to use the land for the project, Blessinger said. That request has been filed.

Blessinger expects the commissioners to hear at its meeting Monday results of a study about the county’s criminal justice system and procedures. The study, which was completed by the University of Cincinnati’s Corrections Institute and funded by the Dubois County Community Foundation, will help determine if there are things that can be done to reduce the amount of time people spend in jail or the amount of time they spend going through the legal system process.

Matt Eckerle of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, the Indianapolis firm helping the county with the financials for the project, sent the county information about revenue that could be used for the project. According to his calculations, the county will have available $29,375,000 from bond proceeds; $5,400,000 in revenue from a new correctional and rehabilitation facilities local income tax, prior to the first bond payment; and $5,225,000 from the county, should the council agree to appropriate that funding.

Barring any major negative change in the economy, there would be more correctional and rehabilitation funds that would be available throughout the project after bond payments. For a 20-year bond, $54 million would be generated, which Blessinger said would be enough to cover the bond payment and have extra revenue for the project.

The correctional and rehabilitation revenue can only be used for this in relation to corrections and rehabilitation. Blessinger believes it cannot be used for renovating the courthouse, he said. Those renovations would have to be covered by the $5.225 million from the county.

“But can we do all of it for that amount of money?” County Councilman Mike Kluesner asked. “Can we build the courtrooms and all that, and then move out of the courthouse? That doesn’t seem like a lot of money.”

Several options cost options are being studied. Blessinger read the most expensive option being looked at: $20 million for the security center, $3.4 million for community corrections and about $10 million for the courthouse, not including soft costs.

“This accounts for 250-270 beds,” Blessinger said. “Right now, we’re shooting high on our estimates so that we don’t get a big surprise on bid day.”

Kluesner said that with the option, the county would have to supply $10 million.

“That puts us in a little bit of a bind,” he said, “I mean, it puts me in a bind, anyway. I mean, you’re spending more than we have. That’s the thing I have a problem with.”

Blessinger said it is solely up to the council to determine how much the county will spend.

“Depending on the actions you take, it will determine what we do,” he said. “If you say we’re not comfortable with spending more than $3 million in cash, then we have to make adjustments accordingly.”

Blessinger added that he believed those projections are high, and that some of that funding may be able to be covered by correctional and rehabilitation revenue, he just doesn’t know how much.
“This is the first time I’ve built a jail, too,” he said.

Should the council decide to provide the $6 million, council President Jerry Hunefeld suggests a total of $2 million come from the county’s local income tax revenue collected in 2020 and 2021, $3 million come from current LIT funding already in the county’s coffers and $1 million from the county’s rainy day fund.

Funding will be discussed again at the council’s meeting in March. Councilman Doug Uebelhor asked that funding estimates for a 150-bed jail facility also be provided to the council.




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